- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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Within a few minutes of the Big 12 announcing that it had voted to begin negotiations with TCU, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds issued a statement congratulating the Horned Frogs on the invitation. Which just goes to show that the conference's statement, while technically correct, was just plain silly.
Negotiations? You didn't exactly need federal mediators at that table. TCU has dreamed of this day ever since the Big Eight and four of the Horned Frogs' Southwest Conference brethren left the Horned Frogs at the curb in 1994.
The TCU of the mid-1990s had grown old and frumpy. The Horned Frogs couldn't win. They had last won an outright SWC championship in 1958 under legendary coach Abe Martin. That may as well have been 1858. The players were all white. Darrell Royal of Texas and Frank Broyles of Arkansas were one year away from their mutual domination of the conference. The Dallas Cowboys were two years away from domination of the marketplace.
By the time the SWC imploded, TCU couldn't give away tickets. Most telling, when the Big 12 left TCU behind, there were hurt feelings but no one outside of Fort Worth questioned the business decision.
The TCU that will rejoin Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech has transformed from matron to hot mama. On the field, Dennis Franchione made the program respectable in the late 1990s. Since then, Gary Patterson turned the Horned Frogs into a national power. You may measure TCU's power by its 25-1 record in 2009-2010, or by the Fiesta and Rose Bowl invitations to cap off those seasons, or by the disappointment with this season's 4-2 start. Or by the $143 million renovation of Amon Carter Stadium that is under way.
Or you may measure TCU's power by the fact that when the Big 12 needed to restore its foundation after Texas A&M left for the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 turned to the Horned Frogs.
They must be feeling very satisfied in Fort Worth today.
TCU will pay the Big East $5 million to leave a conference in which it had yet to compete. Funny thing: when the Big East invited TCU a year ago, it looked like a godsend to TCU, which got entrée into an automatic-qualifier conference, and a clumsy grab at expanding its footprint by the Big East.
The intervening months have not been kind to the conference. TCU's annulment, coming after the Big East lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh, is more devastating than its agreement to join ever had been beneficial. If Louisville and West Virginia bail out of the Big East, the conference's football existence will be in danger.
Unlike the other schools that have brought realignment into the headlines this year, TCU is joining a new conference because of geography, tradition and history, rather than in spite of them. Throw in Metroplex rival SMU, and TCU will play at least four opponents in Texas every year.
Among the old TCU hands, there is concern that the glory days of TCU will come to an end once Texas and Oklahoma annually appear on the Horned Frogs' schedule. "So it's goodbye 12-0 seasons, hello 8-4s," TCU grad and legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins emailed me today.
If nothing else, TCU may settle the argument about whether it and Boise State rose to BCS bowls because of their ability or because of the lack of red meat in their schedule. It remains a possibility that Boise State will help settle it, too. The Big 12 expansion committee has more work to do. The conference stands at 10, at least until Missouri's future is settled. If the Tigers leave, and the Big 12 decides to refill its membership to match its name, the Broncos may get an invitation.
That negotiation will last as long as the one between the conference and TCU.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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